Today, in celebration of hitting 15,000 subscribers, I posted an entertaining tour through the little vegetable gardens out back:
The beds and fencing, etc., aren’t the way I would design a garden but the pre-made space works pretty well and has been a blessing. We’re getting some good pumpkins now, as well as greens and perennial cucumbers.
Here, as a comparison, is a garden I designed:
I don’t like raised beds all that much and was mostly phasing them out in my Florida gardens; however, they are more useful here where the soil is filled with rocks and clay.
In the future I hope to dig and sort all the rocks out of the beds which will help even more.
It is nice to get some Seminole pumpkins from the garden but I am quite disappointed they all seem to be the necked variety. That was unexpected – not what I thought I had saved.
Have a great weekend. I’ll be getting some gardening done today.
I’m not picky when it comes to sources of soil fertility.
Sure, I could go the classic route and plant soybeans or peanuts, like farmers do, or I could go the grocery store and buy dry beans, peas and lentils, or…
…I could just go wander through the woods or even along the shoreline and pick up seeds from obvious nitrogen-fixing species.
Many, though not all, members of the bean and pea family, more properly known as Fabaceae, enjoy a special relationship with certain soil microbes which allows them to take nitrogen from the atmosphere – which is inaccessible to plants – and “fix” it into a form which plants can use.
The roots of the plant share sugars and water with the bacteria, and in return, the bacteria give the plant nitrogen. It’s a fantastic design and one the gardener can put to work in his garden.
Once you learn to spot members of the bean and pea family, it because easy to find them.
If you don’t feel like you’re very good at plant ID, the book Botany in a Day has a lot of photos which will get you spotting plant families in no time.
Though you’re not really going to learn botany in a single day – unless you’re some kind of a savant – Elpel does a nice job visually putting together plants into families and getting you going. You might not nail down a species right away, but you will be able to tell pretty certainly that the plant is in the hibiscus family or the soapberry family or, as concerns today’s post, the bean and pea family.
Nitrogen-fixing trees and plants are everywhere. In the case of the bay beans and Crotalaria I picked up at the beach, I know both of them fix nitrogen – and even if I didn’t know for sure, I could make a very good guess since they look like beans and are also nice and green in an area where they don’t have much right to look so chipper!
I’ll be planting these in rough areas and then later cutting them for use as compost while leaving the root systems in the ground. If you leave the roots instead of pulling them, you get more biomass in the soil and as the roots decay they’ll feed the next thing you plant.
Crotalaria isn’t edible (so far as I know) and the edibility of bay bean is disputable.
I have had multiple requests for updates on my grape pruning and on my seedling tree plantings. This morning I posted a video sharing how things are going.
The pigeon peas and corn have come up, though the corn germination is patchy. One of the coconut trees gave up the ghost, so I planted a new tree to replace it.
In a few minutes I’m going down the hill to pick some more pigeon peas and I’ll take the camera with me. It’s rained a lot the last few days and I’m sure there’s plenty down there I need to harvest.
Pigeon peas really are remarkable. I’ve seen them thriving in rough ground scattered with chunks of concrete, along roadsides, in patches of weeds and in areas with little water. Add to that the plant’s ability to fix nitrogen, fuel rocket stoves and put protein on the table and you have a great crop.
If you missed it, check out my recent survival plant profile on pigeon peas here.
The jackfruit seedling is looking good:
That is the remaining tree after I thinned the seedlings out. You can see me plant this jackfruit in this video:
That makes this seedling about 8 months old. We need to get it growing faster.
If you pay attention to the experts, you get a great big silly list of “don’ts!”
Let’s throw that list out!
The Truth About What Can Go in Compost
If it’s organic and not contaminated with something nasty, like herbicides or heavy metals, throw it in. I add fish guts, hair, ashes, bones, seaweed, meat, paper, bread, charcoal, cake, raw manure and more.
The many rules in composting end up making for lots of compost quitters. You don’t need all those rules. Nature was designed as a big recycling and composting machine. Trust that design and quit worrying.
If you want perfect, crumbly compost in a short period of time, you will need to follow some rules – but if you want a lot more compost over a little longer period of time, then don’t worry so much about getting ratios correct and chopping things up before adding them.
Nature will make great compost for you. Throw it on the ground.
Like… rats! So…
What about Rats?
Ah, rats. Everyone hates rats.
In the comments on my video, BonnieBlue2A wrote:
“The only way I would place anything that might attract rodents would be in a rural area and using the Berkeley Method of hot composting. Being considerate of neighbors and the host of problems rodent bring (disease/fleas) is important. Meat/bones really should be done under hot composting conditions.”
To which CrosStitching replied:
“Rodents are attracted to compost piles regardless of the presence of meat and bones. Soldier flies larva and others will pick the bones clean before rats get there. Compost piles make a good home for rats. Period. I’ve had them move into a mostly carbon rich compost pile. If you don’t want them in a compost pile, build a rodent proof enclosed compost pile with 2×4”s and hardware cloth with a locking lid.”
And I further wrote:
“Rats go after fruit peels, corn, rice, spaghetti noodles and all kinds of other things. Hot compost is nice, but it’s too much work to get started all the time. I’m certainly not going to throw out all that potential fertility because of rodent worries. Sure, if you’re in a city area, though, I get it. I would just hardware cloth the area and then throw everything in. Rats will find compost no matter what, as CrosStitching notes.”
Don’t fear the rodents, as Blue Compost Cult once sang.
But What About Bones Not Breaking Down?
No, bones don’t break down all that quickly, but they do break down eventually – and they’re good for your plants! Why throw them out? Keep tossing them back into the pile or go ahead and rake them right into your garden.
Someone commented on the bones scattered across some of my beds once and I had to explain it to them. No, it’s not typical – but they feed your vegetables.
As I state in the video, people won’t throw meat and bones in their compost but they do go to the store and buy blood meal and bone meal.
There’s a disconnect here! Just compost it.
Compost everything, folks. You won’t believe what can go in compost piles and come out beautiful.
RED Gardens shared success with no-rules composting recently (as I posted here and share in my recent video). If you think I’m nuts, maybe his less nutty approach might appeal to you more:
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Finally, I now have over 14,300 subscribers on my YouTube channel. John Kohler has 372,000. That means I’m 1/26 of the way to reaching him.
Over on YouTube, imasurvivornthriver gives Grow or Die and Compost Everything a nice shout out in a recent video:
I agree with her thought that food may get more expensive as illegals leave the US.
Farms should have been hiring Americans to begin with, of course, and I’m sure things will adjust over time… but right now is a good time to take control of your own food supply no matter how everything pans out.
Digging in sandy soil with a broadfork is easy. In rocky clay, it’s not nearly as easy. It’s basically an extreme sport in clay.
It’s not impossible, though. That bed took me perhaps 45 minutes to prepare, mostly because it takes more stomping on the broadfork than I’m used to, plus I had to bust up the big clods.
Sure, it’s work – but it’s work that needs to be done, especially for root crops.
Why Dig a Garden Bed?
The major reason: loose soil. If the soil structure is open and crumbly, plant roots do a lot better. They can dig deep and get the minerals and water they need without having to force their way through hard earth. You’re doing the hard work first to make their lives easier.
Digging garden beds even works well in sand, as I discovered back in Florida.
When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.
The Initial Feeding
When I prepare a garden bed I rake in compost right at the beginning. In the past I’ve also used amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and kelp meal – all of which are excellent additions to the soil.
Here, though, I can’t get most of those things, so I stick to compost, biochar and sometimes seaweed.
You can see a recent bit of bed prep in this video:
You don’t need a ton of organic matter in the soil. A few percent is fine. I sprinkle perhaps a half-inch cover of compost on a newly dug garden bed and rake or turn it in before I plant. The plants really appreciate compost and it lasts longer and releases its nutrition over time, unlike chemical fertilizer.
When preparing this garden bed I used my Back to Eden chicken run compost, which is probably hotter than compost from a typical backyard pile. The plants don’t seem to mind, though.
Here’s how I made that compost:
Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes
This is easy as shoo-fly pie.
Just cut some vines and stick them in.
You can start your own sweet potato slips with store-bought sweet potatoes if you don’t have any vines currently growing on your homestead.
Use the toothpicks and a jar method – or – even easier – start potatoes growing by burying them shallowly in a pot of soil, then cut vines off of those to plant.
I use a stick to dig holes, then plant the sweet potato cuttings a few inches deep into them.
They’ll look like they’re going to die for a few days, then they’ll recover as the vines root. Sweet potatoes are tough.
“China has pollution problems, and one Italian architect could have some answers.
The Chinese city of Nanjing is getting a Vertical Forest, a set of two buildings stylised with around 1,100 trees and a combination of over 2,500 shrubs and plants.
But it’s not all about how it looks: The Nanjing Towers will absorb enough carbon dioxide to make around 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of oxygen every day, an official press release claimed. China’s Vertical Forest is scheduled to be completed sometime next year.
“Vertical Forest is a model for a sustainable residential building, a project for metropolitan reforestation that contributes to the regeneration of the environment and urban biodiversity without the implication of expanding the city upon the territory. It is a model of vertical densification of nature within the city that operates in relation to policies for reforestation and naturalization of large urban and metropolitan borders. The first example of the Vertical Forest composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 m height, was realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and hosts 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 meters) and over 20.000 plants from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants distributed in relation to the façade’s position towards the sun. On flat land, each Vertical Forest equals, in amount of trees, an area of 7000 m2 of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 75.000 m2. The vegetal system of the Vertical Forest aids in the construction of a microclimate, produces humidity, absorbs CO2 and dust particles and produces oxygen.
Biological habitats Vertical Forest increases biodiversity. It helps to set up an urban ecosystem where different kinds of vegetation create a vertical environment which can also be colonised by birds and insects, and thus becomes both a magnet for and a symbol of the spontaneous recolonisation of the city by vegetation and by animal life. The creation of a number of Vertical Forests in the city will be able to create a network of environmental corridors which will give life to the main parks in the city, bringing the green space of avenues and gardens and connecting various spaces of spontaneous vegetation growth.
Mitigations Vertical Forest helps to build a micro-climate and to filter dust particles which are present in the urban environment. The diversity of the plants helps to create humidity, and absorb CO2 and dust, produces oxygen, protects people and houses from the suns rays and from acoustic pollution.”
I like the idea of forest buildings. I imagine you could really “push the zone” on the south-facing wall of a building like this, as they would be located inside the heat sink of surrounding urban development.
The next step would be to grow edible plants and trees, though you’d have to be careful about avocados falling 500 feet and turning some sidewalk stroller’s brains into guacamole.